Berg: Lulu

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berg
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Lulu
PERFORMER: Agneta Eichenholz, Michael Volle, Klaus Florian Vogt, Jennifer Larmore, Gwynne Howell, Peter Rose, Philip Langridge; Royal Opera House Orchestra/Antonio Pappano; dir. Christof Loy (London, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1034 D

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Do not adjust your TV set. This is not a rehearsal in a cheap studio, but the full extent of the Christof Loy’s fully-staged 2009 production of Lulu at the Royal Opera House. Like so many other current opera directors, Loy appears to take the maxim ‘less is more’ as an article of faith, but, as so often, less is simply less.

The set, and the interpretation of the protagonist, are completely empty vessels, with black backdrops. The costumes are anonymous dark grey and black suits or dresses. Occasionally there is a chair, or some turquoise-blue lighting breaks the monochrome, and there is no shortage of stage blood.

The parsimony extends to the humour, which has been purged, ignoring the fact that, as with Shakespeare, moments of laughter heighten engagement with the tragedy.

Yet the musical qualities are exceptionally fine. The cast, led by the deliberately ice-cool, passionless Agneta Eichenholz as Lulu, is vocally strong but theatrically hamstrung by the production.

Antonio Pappano has a firm grip of every nuance of the music, from the gossamer-like delicacy after the dialogue at the end of Act II to the various moments of wrenching, disturbing power. This is captured marvellously, though the voices are occasionally a little distant.

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Blu-ray brings a marginal improvement in audio quality and a more significant clarity of picture, though high definition black on black is hardly a priority. The logical response at home is simply to switch off the television, invest in a libretto, and treat this as a marvellous audio-only release. Christopher Dingle